A heinous act which even brutes do not resort to, rape certainly has its moors in the socio-cultural set up of the contemporary society. Devoid of the intentions of oppression and humiliation on part of the perpetrators, and the associated stigma for the victim, it is just like any other physical attack. But the collective psyche of the perpetrator community becomes all the more important and crucial when analysing rape in a sociological perspective.

Rapes should be understood as the culmination of a much larger cultural climate, which informs all kinds of atrocities against women, feels Sasheej Hegde, a sociologist of eminence from University of Hyderabad.

Rape is a form of violence incorporating societal perceptions of masculinity and femininity — ideal man as being superior, all-powerful, and sexually active, and ideal woman being docile, weak and sexually attractive. The changing dynamics of class, caste, gender and age play their part in this larger cultural milieu.

When men across the spectrum allege that women bring it on themselves, they are only asserting the public-private definitions imposed on women by orthodoxy, says Prof. Hegde. These definitions stipulate how women are to be perceived in public and private spheres through their behaviour, but are never invoked in case of men. For instance, a woman smoking and drinking in public is perceived as “open” for sexual overtures. Milder forms of rape, such as groping, slapping, and grabbing are examples of sexual harassment stemming from such perceptions.

The legal domain is not immune from the values informing the social domain, and does not act independently of the latter. It is this commonly held value system or prejudice that influences one’s perception of consent and coercion in legal terms too.

While Indian cities are rapidly becoming destinations of social mobility, the cultural orientation of their occupants has not been able to keep pace. Patriarchal social set up certainly underwrites the circumstances of rape, but the perceptions of masculinity and femininity independent of patriarchal and gender notions too are implicated in the culture of rape, Mr. Hegde feels. The images that constitute media and representation only work to reinforce the perceptions.

Media’s representation of masculinity and femininity, though drawing from the society, equally influences the latter, feels Mahesh Kumar Kathi, an independent film-maker and analyst.

“In Telugu films, the hero behaves with the heroine in the same way he behaves with the villain,” he quips.

Films in which protagonist from the streets straightens the wealthy female lead -- not by fighting against her, not by reforming her, but by marrying her -- have direct connotations of sexual repression for the audience, he says.

“Natural expressions of love are condemned for us. So they are replaced by stereotypical images drawn from the cinema, of the protagonist stalking the girl, and harassing her to accept his love.

Do we have aspirational models of expressing love in our cinema?” he questions.

A deep desire to get associated with women, but no proper model of association, restrictions placed on love, together with the peer pressure of falling in love, and the misplaced notions of ‘only one love in one life’ play havoc with young minds, taking them on a roller-coaster of emotions and ethics.

Worse, these stereotypical images produced by cinema are not questioned by women’s organisations, which condemn the obscenity on screen at the drop of the hat.

“Majority of the movie-goers are male, and commercial cinema is based on its patronage. Alternative possibilities of story telling are dying their slow death, for lack of market.

How a society will shape itself after 20 years under such circumstances, is not in our control,” says Mr. Mahesh Kumar.


Many unsung brave hearts amid us!January 3, 2013

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